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This Boy Wonder

from Time Out London - 27 April-4 May, 2005
by Graeme Thomson


As the absurdly youthful frontman of Glasgow band Aztec Camera, Roddy Frame penned some of the most gorgeous guitar pop of the '80s.Now a spritely 41 and a proud Londoner - 'practically a pearly king' - he tells Graeme Thomson why he's playing a month of Sundays at Ronnie Scott's

'I'm just cleaning the kitchen,' says Roddy Frame down the line from his west London home. 'I've already walked the dog. I'm like an abandoned suburban housewife. Mind you, I don't watch daytime TV - that's something I weaned myself off. And every now and again I do a bit of writing.'

Phew. It;s nice to know that in between keeping house and exercising his dog (not to mention reading 'The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius') Frame still cultivates his day job. Then again, it's healthy to acknowledge that life is about more than mere songs. 'I was never prolific,' he admits. 'It's not like I've slowed down. Even in the Postcard days, I was never able to write to order. I feel like I'm still working at the same pace.'

Since he jettisoned Aztec Camera in the mid-90's to trade under his own name, Frame has increasingly existed outside the cultural mainstream, his profile hovering somewhere between low and off-radar. It seems to suit him just fine - most of the time. 'There's always a part of you that's craving attention,' he admits. 'That's what this all comes down to in the end, after all. You're always thinking: What! We only sold 400 tickets? We could have sold 500 ... But I'm fairly comfortable with what I do now. It's like Spinal Tap: my audience have become more selective! I've got a lot more freedom than I used to have.'

The commercial price for that artistic freedom is that his last record - 'Surf', released on indie label Redemption in 2002 - failed to make the waves it deserved. Those of us who had long regarded Frame as one of the consummate writers of his generation hailed the album as a thrilling vindication of the man's talents. Eleven songs of just voice and guitar, it avoided the usual pitfalls of acoustic albums (cliched song structures, lazy rhymes, third-hand emotional tics, lack of texture) and delivered a stunning, understated showcase for Frame's dextrous finger-picking, ambitious pop melodies and gorgeous vocals.

Lyrically 'Surf' was a 'London for Lovers' songbook, tracing the peaks and troughs of a relationship against the backdrop of SW3, the Strand and the East End's 'twilight crowd'. 'Oh yeah, I'm practically a cockney, a pearly king.' laughs Frame, a Scot who has lived here for over 20 years. 'I was more concerned with getting the words to rhyme and scan than painting a particular picture, but when I look back, it's a real London record. All those little landmarks.'

Three years on, the follow-up is taking shape. Provisionally entitled 'Shore Songs', it will reflect 'Surf's' sparse feel, perhaps with more instrumentation. 'I've got a whole bunch of stuff written and some of it's recorded. Ultimately, what I want to do is find people I can play with in the same room and do it in completely live takes.'

In the meantime, his girlfriend's sister has double-dared Frame into playing a month of Sunday nights at Ronnie Scott's. The old school charm of a club residency appealed to him, although he performs so infrequently these days you wonder whether he's slightly wary of the stage. He insisits it's quite the opposite. 'I love playing live. It still feels very spontaneous to me, quite edgy and nervy. I'm just not famous enough to be out playing all the time.'

He's refreshingly at ease with his poppy past. Having come through the post-punk slipstream with an equal regard for the acoustic guitar and the Yamaha DX-7, Frame wouldn't make an audience suffer for his art. 'I'm going to play a few new songs, but not loads. You're asking a lot for people to listen to lots of new songs on just an acoustic guitar. Some artists are like "Let's forget about the halcyon days when you were at university listening to these songs - here's a new one about my divorce called 'Weekend Father'!" '

Frame, on the other hand, understands the difference between inspiration and indulgence.  

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